by Len Lear
Walter Lapidus, 50, a Wyndmoor resident, his wife, Margie Scherzer, and daughters, Daria, 18, and Jordan, 16, went on vacation a couple years ago to Nashville and New Orleans. “My daughters ate at a place that serves fruit bowls and smoothies,” said Walter, “and they loved it. I figured that if they liked it so much, there must be a demand for that type of place, so when we got home, I did some research and found the nearest place like it was on Route 63, but nothing in Chestnut Hill or Mt. Airy, so I decided to open one.”
Walter learned about Bahia Bowls Açaí Café, a franchise operation founded in 2017 in Southwest Florida in the “fast casual” healthy dining space. Its stores offer an assortment of all-natural “Superfruit” bowls, Smoothies and other specialty products. (The açaí palm is a species of South American palm tree cultivated for its fruit, hearts of palm, leaves and wood. Global demand for the fruit, which is sweet, tasty and full of fiber and antioxidants, has expanded rapidly in the 21st century.)
So Walter and two partners, Michael Dvorkin and Boris Karol, decided to buy a franchise from Bahia Bowls. (All three partners are originally from the former Soviet Union, and Dvorkin and Lapidus are partners in another business, Anchor Realty, based in Northeast Philadelphia.)
In August of last year the Chestnut Hill Community Association voted to officially support the variance for a Bahia Bowls takeout operation at 8136 Germantown Ave., formerly the site of a sit-down restaurant that closed a few years ago.
Bahia Bowls opened to the public on July 10 with mostly curbside pickup or delivery by Grubhub or Doordash. “It is not something people will drive a long distance for,” said Lapidus. “We figure that customers come from two-and-a-half miles in either direction. We are actively looking at another location. The area has to be walkable and densely populated, like Chestnut Hill or Manayunk. We have no competition nearby.
“We will start serving waffles soon, made by my wife. Waffles did not work in Florida because of the warm weather, but now that cold weather is coming, we think it will work here. We are the only Bahia Bowls store in the Northeastern U.S. The pandemic has not really hurt us because we are not an in-store dining operation. It’s take-out-and-go. I love the product. It is not a snack or dessert. It is a full meal.” (As a customer, I can vouch for that. The bowls are inexpensive, less than $10, delicious and very filling. Each one is literally a meal in itself.)
Almost every review on yelp.com so far has been five stars. The latest one was by Jeff H. of Chestnut Hill, on Nov. 11: “The bowls and Smoothies are a perfect light lunch or snack. I especially like the fruit bowls with the Pitaya Bowl being my favorite. It is so tasty … As Bahia Bowls is only a very short walk from where I live, I will be crossing its threshold many times. My taste buds and stomach will not be complaining!”
(Throughout the month of December, Bahia Bowls will have a promotion in which you can bring in a receipt for $20 or more for up to three days from any other store or restaurant in Chestnut Hill and receive 10 percent off your Bahia Bowls purchase.)
Lapidus came to the U.S. in 1979 from Ukraine. His father selected Philadelphia because he had a relative here. The family lived in the Northeast, where there is now a large Russian emigré population. “There were not many Russians then that we could talk to,” he said, “so we were forced to learn English, which was a good thing. It was not easy leaving my best friend back home, but there was no opportunity there. It was even worse for us because of the discrimination against Jews. Your religion was noted on your passport, and as soon as they saw ‘Jewish,’ there were jobs and schools that would not let you in. I could not be happier that we left Ukraine.”
Lapidus went to the Engineering & Science High School and American University in Washington, D.C., majoring in finance and minoring in real estate. He then had jobs in corporate finance and the airline industry, among others. In 2003 he opened a franchise in a flat-fee-for-service real estate operation, which was doing well until the financial crash of 2008, so he transitioned into Anchor Realty, which now manages 1,300 properties, mostly in Philadelphia.
For more information, visit bahiabowls.com. Len Lear can be reached at [email protected]